WASHINGTON, DC— The day the quarantine began seemed like a normal one. The sun was shining in DC and the trees were finally pulling leaves onto their naked branches, but the days that followed proved to be anything but normal for our nation.
As the news delved further and further into chaos, and each article seemed bleaker than the last, it was strange looking out the window of my home and seeing the opposite. Families we’d never seen before were walking down the block hand-in-hand, we heard fathers and children playing together from the comfort of their gardens, and immediate neighbors were hosting social-distance get-togethers propped up on lawn chairs and chatting for hours from the safety of their own front yards. American socialization was swiftly adopting a new front, one albeit a little further apart.
We even saw it within our own home, my mother received calls and text messages from the community asking if we needed anything from the store, and then we began getting little gifts of chocolate muffins and decadent traditional treats from our neighbors, though, I admit, they had to in turn suffer through some less-than-delicious desserts of my own.
My mother and I have found these experiences venture much further than our little Northeast DC neighborhood. My mother has been asking customer service representatives of the various agencies she’s called what their opinions are on working from home, and some of their answers have brought her to the brink of tears. One father who works for our credit union shared how he’s finally getting to see his children make fundamental achievements he’d missed most of their lives: “So, for me, as for working from home, it has really been a blessing. The fact that I have been able to witness my children accomplishing different feats. I watched my five-year-old be able to ride her bicycle without training wheels, and getting to see that by looking out the window rather than missing it, being at the office, I feel like it was a gift from God. I worked a job for nine years up to fourteen hours a day and I only got to see them two hours a day and I missed so much of it.” And he wasn’t alone. Several other parents commented on how much they’d missed, and were now recovering all because of COVID-19. Of course, I can’t write this without acknowledging the trials that have similarly resulted from this quarantine—horrific levels of job loss, in the neighborhood of forty million, according to journalist Jeff Cox of CNBC; potential food shortages reported on by Benjamin VanHoose of People Magazine; and more have erupted from this shutdown. What struck me most, however, was the unique similarity between this time and one our country has witnessed in the past. In an article for The Balance, economic analyst Kimberly Amadeo put into perspective the startling impact of the Great Depression on America as we knew it; in just five years America’s economy shriveled to half its former size, the price of agricultural goods fell to levels seen in the midst of the Civil War, and some believed it to be the death of the American dream. Similar horrors have been said of COVID-19. But Lindsey Konkel of History reminds us of an often overlooked part of history: the remarkable uptick in social interaction during the Great Depression.
She tells us of neighbors drawing closer, playing games together in the evenings, and meeting regularly to support one another; indeed, potlucks became a nation-sweeping trend, and children gathered together in yards playing while their parents sought work. Communities were woven closer in ways not seen before, and just like now there was a remarkable calamity to overcome, but it was that very hardship that drove people together. A few weeks back I had the privilege of joining a call for teenagers spread out through DC, Maryland, and Virginia to discuss the impact COVID-19 and quarantine has had on youth, and how best we can impact them positively. It was on this call that I heard a remarkable and heart-rending story. A young man shared that the passing of his mother not long before the shut-down had made the pain of quarantine especially acute. When the local libraries closed, he was left helpless in finding another way to study for his college courses, as he’d used the public computers to do so in the past. But fortunately his school stepped in and gave him a computer, and it has been through faith, prayer, and music that he has been able to keep his hopes alive during these challenging times. It was these very stories that pushed me to write this article because in the midst of pain and suffering, and the problems we as a society must face, it’s important to highlight the good so that as we work to address the rising issues to the best of our ability, we can know who we’re doing it for. So during this quarantine, before you head to the store, think about giving your neighbor a call, start a food-swapping program with friends, or make some music to keep your soul light. It’s together that we persevere, and it’s together that we thrive.